ELV note: In a recent Battle of the ELV Steves, Steve #1 offered this pungent critique of ELV’s methodology:
(You should) (a)ct like a real critic, stay under the radar, quit accepting comps, and give us real reviews. Jose Andres restaurants in DC are overrated, crap except for the experience at minibar, STK is a corporate conglomerate giving us loud music and the same steakhouse experience as, well, any steakhouse, and Milos, while great, is getting some Greek love because its the only game in town.
Anyone know what the critics look like in Chicago or NY? Nope.
And D.O.C.G. is great.
Off my high horse/soap box.
To which Steve #2 replied:
Dear Supercilious Steve,
The problem isn’t with John, it’s the system in Vegas. In order for John to quit accepting comps someone needs to fund his reviews, nobody in media is willing to pony up for the job and also since he is not exactly undercover, I think its something we all have to learn to live with. John will fade of into obscurity (ELV note: Never!) once the major media outlets decide to enter the market. For now they are too busy catering to the lowest common denominator which still thinks Olive Garden is the #1 restaurant in Vegas to focus on fine dining reviews . Until that time, long live John, Max & Al. Its better than nothing, lucky for us his biases are pretty transparent.
PS: I concur about DOCG (with the exception of the charcuterie which is not ideally sourced), this is interesting since Scarpetta did not live up to expectations at all. I think the best way to explain it is that DOCG compares favorably to Otto, however Scarpetta is not even in the same league as B&B or even Bartolotta. And I also disagree about Jose Andres in DC.
Leading ELV to reply:
Dear Steve Squared,
ELV appreciates the perspicacity of two of of his perennially perceptive posters, who personify his praiseworthy patrons. However, the issue of “stop accepting comps” is not as easy as Supercilious Steve suggests. ELV doesn’t seek nor request “invitations” and “hosted meals” from casino eateries (the ones that dole out the freebies to writers in exchange for articles). The worst thing we ever do is ask the occasional p.r. person to make a reservation for us. Even then we always offer to pay.
The problem is, some restaurants won’t let us….even when we insist. We are flattered and appreciate this, but think/hope that after 16 years on this beat, our reputation is such that they know we’re going to call ’em as we see ’em — whether we pay or not (and even in these difficult economic times, we always leave a generous tip — generally around $100 in one of our high end joints).
Our anonymity is even disappearing in Chinatown (where we were recognized three times in the past six months). On some level that means, yes, we probably get the best the kitchen can offer that night, but all that means is a little extra care is taken with the plating and presentation. No chef worth his salt changes a recipe just because a critic shows up.
The bigger problem is, as Sagacious Steve points out, the refusal of our media outlets to take food journalism/restaurant writing seriously. What passes for content here: a single meal followed by a rating (A’s all around!), or comps all around followed by something favorable in a local ‘zine — would be laughed out of town in Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, or Atlanta.
ELV feels a mixture of both pride and foolishness over what he’s done since 1995: pay tens of thousands of dollars every year out of his own pocket (after taxes) to sample and report on Vegas restaurants — generally going two or three times, and sampling half the menu (at least) — before he would write or broadcast a review. No local media considers food reporting worth actually paying the expenses of someone to do it right…even though food (the most popular thing on the planet after sex) is constantly used by them to sell their wares. (We are constantly bemused by this fact when we listen to Nevada Public Radio’s incessant use of food, chefs and restaurants during their fundraisers.)
Sagacious Steve may also be right that someday, our media will grow up and start giving food journalism the respect it deserves, but asking them to start actually paying for ethically correct (and thorough) content is like expecting Charlie Sheen to stop dating porn stars — they get a lot for a little and that’s just the way they like it.
PS: Here is but a sampling of ELV’s restaurant receipts (paid by him) in 2010.
The biggest bill was a $900 whopper at Carnevino, and the smallest one, $7(?) at Herbs & Rye.